As they hurry through the breezeway between Newman and Marillac Halls at St. John’s University’s Queens campus, students often stop to peer at a series of picture windows filled with the glow of electronic equipment. Television monitors display stock market figures. Digital clocks are set to international time zones. Rows of computer stations stream financial news from around the world.
The windows—and the high-tech equipment they reveal—belong to the University’s Financial Information Lab. After six years, the facility continues to serve as a vital resource for students in The Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. John’s. “You can’t get any more experiential than sitting here—and seeing the latest economic data evolve on the screens throughout the day,” said John Neumann, D.B.A., associate professor of finance and the lab’s Faculty Director.
Data, Neumann observed, is what the Financial Information Lab is all about. Whether they major in finance or risk management, marketing or decision sciences, Tobin students have access to the most up-to-date tools for gathering information that professionals use to manage portfolios or formulate business strategies. They go not to hear lectures or take notes, but to gain hands-on experience.
“It’s definitely not an alternative classroom,” said Neumann. “When you bring a class in here, it’s because you need to access the data that our system provides. There is a real benefit to having students become proficient with a Bloomberg terminal or FactSet software.”
Neumann should know—he helped design the facility. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he began his career in information systems for companies such as Accenture, AT&T, and Robert A. Stanger & Co., Inc. He left the corporate world to focus on scholarly research. In 2003, after earning his doctorate in business administration at Boston University, Neumann secured a teaching position at St. John’s. Several years later, he was asked to help build the lab.
Working with St. John’s Facilities and Information Technology offices, as well as external vendors, Neumann was on the team that reviewed plans, chose the technology, and helped to guide construction. Today, the lab contains a variety of systems useful to business students and professionals, including 33 computer workstations with dual display side-by-side monitors; FactSet, a suite of financial analytical tools and databases; the Bloomberg suite of financial tools; and a Tracker Board that displays real-time updates of the financial markets in addition to the holdings of the College’s two student-managed investment fund portfolios.
“As a systems person, I appreciate the value of a lab like this to our students’ professional development,” he observed. “More schools tend to have something like it these days. At St. John’s, it supports an important aspect of our University mission—to provide experiential learning.”
Neumann uses the facility in his own classes. He teaches the Tobin College’s two Student-Managed Investment Fund courses, one for undergraduates and the other for M.B.A. students. Students must apply to the highly selective program, which allows them to manage actual portfolios valued at more than $3 million combined. Using the lab’s systems and data, students perform intensive analysis of investment actions and make recommendations on the purchase or sale of securities. Recommendations are executed after approval by an Investment Committee of University administrators, Tobin College faculty, and visiting executives.
“The classes can be quite intense,” said Neumann. “But that’s part of the reason why it’s so exciting to teach at St. John’s. It’s gratifying to engage the students, to open their minds and tap their potential to take advantage of the rich personal and professional possibilities before them.”